Saturday, February 28, 2009

February: Black History Month

If you are an immigrant to the States, you may be surprised to find out that the month of February is also known as Black History Month. When I first heard about it, I wondered about its relevance. Isn’t February the shortest month? Isn’t Black history considered American history? It was then that I discovered that one of my favorite writers, Alexandre Dumas (père) was one-fourth Haitian and if he were an American, he would be black. Wow!

Ever since, I stopped wondering about its relevance. You live, you learn. This year, in order to celebrate Black History Month, Dr. Isis posted a fabulous link, which I enjoyed reading.

*Picture: Alexandre Dumas (père) by Nadar (Wikipedia)

Saturday, February 21, 2009

"Dream Deferred"

As I look at the amount of work I need to do before I can apply to medical school, I wonder if I will ever apply, get in and then find what I am seeking. I have been trying to analyze my motivations to go back to school. Frankly, I do not understand them.

When I was fresh out of high school, I seemed to be really focused. I knew where I was heading with certainty. Now, everything seems gray. When I feel this way, I like to read "Harlem" (sometimes called "Dream Deferred") from Langston Hughes' Montage of a Dream Deferred (1951), from which a line was taken for the title of the play A Raisin in the Sun.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Valentine's day thought

“It’s no good trying to fool yourself about love. You can’t fall into it like a soft job, without dirtying up your hands. It takes muscle and guts. And if you can’t bear the thought of messing up your nice, clean soul, you’d better give up the whole idea of life, and become a saint because you’ll never make it as a human being. It’s either this world or the next.” John Osborne (Jimmy speaking to Helena, in the play Look Back in Anger)

If I were one of the characters in Look Back in Anger, I would retort back, “Love is sometimes not worth messing up your soul.” I hope Time does not prove me wrong.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Birdie Num Num

One of my father’s favorite actors was Peter Sellers. He first introduced us to Sellers by renting the movie, The Party, a 1968 comedy written and directed by Blake Edwards, also starring Claudine Longet. We thought the film was hilarious; we spent that Saturday afternoon in hysterics. We enjoyed watching Peter Sellers as he played Hrundi V. Bakshi, a well-intentioned, but hapless, Indian actor who is accidentally invited to a lavish Hollywood party, where he causes havoc. Two decades later, I still burst out in laughter when I remember some of the scenes, especially when Bakshi talks gibberish and overfeeds "Birdie Num Nums" to a macaw.

I wonder how well received the movie would be if it were released in today’s politically correct environment. Did you know that, at one time, India had banned the film? [Read this]. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, acclaimed Bengali Indian filmmaker Satyajit Ray was at one time set to make his American feature debut with Sellers in a leading role for his science fiction film, The Alien. When Ray came to visit Sellers on the set of The Party, he was so disgusted by Sellers' performance and the film, he refused to meet Sellers again. He felt it was a coarse caricature [Read this for more]. Apparently, Ray and other critics of the film do not share the same sense of humor as the fans of Peter Sellers. Richard Combs, the Film Comment writer, put it well when he said The Party is "both classic farce and trenchant satire, a self-sufficient fantasy about the fantasy of Hollywood life."

Had I not seen this movie with my father when I was a child, would I have the same feeling toward it? I do not know. What actually surprises me is that ever since I watched that movie I have been using the line “Birdie Num Num” to say “I am hungry” or “The food tastes good”. Oftentimes, I do so without even realizing it. Recently, my sister brought her future in-laws from out of state to introduce them to the family in a traditional ceremony. When she went back, she emailed me a clip of “Birdie Num Num” scene. I had a good laugh. Next time you are in a restaurant and you overhear someone say “Birdie Num Num”, don’t fret because you might just be seating next to me.

With apologies to Satyajit Ray, enjoy:

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Let’s party and be sane!

The more you live, the wiser your parents seem. “You need to have an active social life to be sane” is something my mother always said to me and my siblings. I never really paid attention to that daily advice. I enjoyed being a "recluse". When my mom first moved to the U.S., she missed her very active and high profile social life the most. I never quite understood the importance of her social life to her well-being until I read about a recent Swedish study reported in the journal Neurology which claims that socially active people who were not easily stressed had a 50 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared to men and women who were isolated and prone to distress.

Past studies had shown the association between chronic distress (i.e. neuroticism) and greater risk of dementia, and the association between active lifestyle (i.e. high extraversion) and lower risk of dementia. The new study sought to examine the individual and combined effects of neuroticism and extraversion on the risk of dementia.

The study was based on a 6-year follow-up of 506 elderly people from the Kungsholmen Project, Stockholm, Sweden, who showed no signs of dementia upon the first examination. The volunteers’ personality traits were assessed using the Eysenck Personality Inventory. Specialists diagnosed dementia according to DSM-III-R criteria.

Among the different combinations (i.e. high neuroticism and high extraversion, high neuroticism and low extraversion, low neuroticism and high extraversion, low neuroticism and low extraversion), low neuroticism in combination with high extraversion seems to be the personality trait associated with the lowest dementia risk. However, among socially isolated individuals even low neuroticism alone seems to decrease dementia risk.

Hui-Xin Wang of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, who led the study, said in a statement reported by Reuters.
"In the past, studies have shown that chronic distress can affect parts of the brain, such as the hippocampus, possibly leading to dementia, but our findings suggest that having a calm and outgoing personality in combination with a socially active lifestyle may decrease the risk of developing dementia even further."

Mom, you seem to be right!